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20th Century Fox presents
"What we accomplish today will change the world. We are fortunate that our family has been chosen to do this."
DVD Review"Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in."
Although Al Pacino delivered that famous line in The Godfather, Part III, the words easily could have been spoken by Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) at the beginning of 24's high-octane fourth season. The indefatigable and often renegade special agent found himself on professional thin ice at the end of Season Three, making it all too easy for Erin Driscoll (Alberta Watson), the pompous new head of CTU (that's the Counter Terrorist Unit for all you newbies), to fire him. Jack, however, always lands on his feet, and now works for Secretary of Defense James Heller (William Devane), a tough-talking Donald Rumsfeld knock-off, who's in L.A. for a briefing at CTU, and hasn't an inkling his married daughter Audrey (Kim Raver) is carrying on a clandestine affair with Jack.
Of course, in true 24 fashion, only seconds after the story begins, all hell breaks loose. A train explodes in the California desert, Heller and Audrey are kidnapped, and before anyone can say Osama Bin Laden, America's nuclear reactors teeter on the brink of meltdown. Terrorists once again plot to bring the nation to its knees, and the string of calamities forces Jack back into the CTU fold, where he races against time to—you guessed it—save the world.
24 has riveted audiences for the past four years not only because of brilliant storytelling, nail-biting suspense, top-flight production values, and action stunts galore, but also because it takes us out of our comfort zone, tapping into very real terrorist fears and depicting outlandish situations with enough kernels of truth to make us squirm. Yet in the interest of political correctness, prior seasons have tiptoed around the issue of ethnicity, giving viewers generic European villains instead of more realistic (and frightening) Muslim extremists. In our hyper-sensitive post-9/11 environment, the show's producers seemed unwilling, even afraid to incite controversy or risk racist allegations by pinning nefarious deeds on those of Middle Eastern descent.
Well, no more. Season Four's immersive plotline finally throws caution to the wind by attacking contemporary terrorism head-on, and, as a result, the storyline feels more immediate and threatening. A well-to-do family of Turkish immigrants lies at the center of a dangerous Muslim cell, and the patriarch, Navi Araz (Nestor Serrano), will sacrifice anything—even his teenage son, Behrooz (Jonathan Ahdout)—to see America destroyed. His dutiful wife, Dina, shares his convictions—to a point—and as played with icy resolve by the excellent Iranian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo (who earned an Oscar nomination for her stunning work in House of Sand and Fog), the character carries on 24's tradition of creating slick, intelligent women we love to hate. Like Sherry Palmer and Nina Myers before her, Dina Araz possesses enough complexity and contradiction to make her a fascinating subject, and Aghdashloo bravely embraces every facet of her personality.
Dina, however, isn't 24's only magnetic figure. Along with the non-stop action and delicious tension, a gallery of quirky characters keeps the series fresh and fun. The tactless CTU sourpuss, Chloe (wonderfully played by Mary Lynn Rajskub); her overweight, lisping colleague, Edgar (Louis Lombardi); the hard-ass Secretary Heller; and lock-jawed CTU dragon lady, Miss Driscoll, all push our buttons in various ways. Thankfully, the writers seem astute enough to realize explosions and gunfire alone can't sustain interest, and their richly drawn characters lend the show vital texture and emotion.
Yes, some of 24's trademark twists and turns are becoming formulaic and predictable—most notably, the practice of "surprising" us with returning characters from previous seasons during pivotal sweeps periods—but that's a common symptom of a long-running series. The writers can no longer resuscitate Nina and Sherry (both of whom met a bitter end in Season Three), so this time around Jack's trusted colleague, Tony Almeida (Carlos Bernard), and his estranged wife, Michelle (Reiko Aylesworth), crop up midway through the season, as does ex-President David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert), who steps in to help the White House manage a mélange of security crises. Although their introductions may be less dramatic and shocking than the writers intend, we're still glad to see them, and accept the gimmick at face value. Pedestrian comedies and dramas require the steadying influence of long-running characters, but 24 remains a different bird, and its fresh angles and fresh faces keep us constantly guessing—and that's just how we like it.
Staying out of the mainstream has kept 24 a critical and popular success, as well as a unique entity, and that's rare in today's homogenized TV landscape. CSI and Law and Order franchises may rule the airwaves, but thankfully Fox has made sure there is only one 24. And for my blood pressure's sake, let's hope they keep it that way.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: With its stylish production values, broad canvas, and action focus, 24 often resembles a feature film, but few big-screen blockbusters look as good as this small-screen thriller on DVD. The widescreen anamorphic transfer is razor sharp and clean as a whistle, yet there's a lush smoothness to the presentation that makes it utterly enveloping. Blacks are solid and deep, colors are crisp, and fleshtones possess just the right natural hue. Contrast and shadow detail are both excellent, and no evidence of edge enhancement could be detected. Once again, Fox honors one of its flagship series with a superior treatment.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: The 5.1 mix offers top quality audio, judiciously employing the rear speakers and subwoofer to create a balanced sound field that impresses without overpowering. Gunshots are distinct, explosions rumble, and ambient effects add subtle atmosphere to the action. Dialogue, whether whispered or shouted, remains clear and comprehendible, while the recognizable music score surrounds with ease.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
39 Deleted Scenes
12 Feature/Episode commentaries by various members of the cast and crew
Packaging: Book Gatefold
Disc 7 houses the rest of the extras, the most noteworthy of which is the exclusive Season Five Prequel. The 11-minute teaser opens with a shaggy-haired, disheveled Jack secretly meeting a dolled-up Chloe in a rundown section of Chicago a year after the events of the previous season. Chloe confesses someone has hacked into her computer and stolen vital files that expose Jack's bogus death, and he should watch his back even more carefully than usual. Moments after she departs, Jack finds himself pursued by a band of mysterious men, and the ensuing car chase climaxes with a grisly crash. Fox Movie Channel Presents: Making A Scene outlines the shooting of the car chase (filmed in just two days with minimal rehearsal) in a slick, seven-minute short that follows the prequel.
Next up are three behind-the-scenes featurettes, all of which spark initial interest, but drag on too long. They certainly immerse us in 24's backstage world, but only obsessive fans will appreciate the level of detail and step-by-step chronology of shooting various sequences and stunts. Technical personnel dominate the segments—as they should—but the absence of any of the series' stars or featured players robs us of the opportunity of seeing the actors cutting up, blowing off steam, or honing their characters. Breaking Ground: Building the New CTU (17m:46s) begins as a meticulous design tour of the new CTU set from blueprints to construction to technology, then lets us see the crew use the space for the first time. Blood on the Tracks (17m:23s) chronicles the complexities of shooting the massive train explosion in Episode 1, while Lock and Load (20m:09s) glorifies the firearms used in a key shootout, and outlines the contributions of the United States Marine Corps in the sequence.
24 Conspiracy is a series of 24 one-minute "mobisodes" (mobile phone episodes) that Fox created to drum up enthusiasm for Season Four. First seen on cell phones in Europe, and subsequently in the U.S., the storyline revolves around the Washington DC branch of CTU, yet ties neatly into what's going on out in L.A. The acting leaves plenty to be desired, but the plot is intriguing, and it's amazing how much action can be squeezed into 60 seconds or less.
The three-and-a-half-minute music video of The Longest Day (Theme from 24) celebrates Sean Callery's identifiable series music, while Inside Look (02m:15s) offers a sneak peek at Sutherland's upcoming big-screen political thriller, The Sentinel, co-starring Michael Douglas, Eva Longoria, and Kim Basinger. Finally, a three-minute preview of the soon-to-be-released video game based on 24 (which takes place between Seasons Two and Three) includes glimpses of the game's impressive graphics, footage of the stars recording audio scenes, and on-camera narration by Sutherland. A weblink to the 24 game site completes the extras package.
Extras Grade: A-
Final Comments24 packs more thrills per capita than any other show on TV, and Season Four carries on the series' stellar tradition with two-dozen action-packed, intricately plotted, well-acted, and dazzlingly filmed episodes. Superb audio and video transfers from Fox and a complete disc of solid extras makes this set a must-own for the show's legion of diehard fans. And for those who haven't yet discovered the pulse-pounding world of 24, now is the time! Recommended.
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